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Let the local electoral process in Ukraine begin

Following the Resolution of Verkhovna Rada “Regarding next elections of deputies of local councils and village, town and city chairmen in 2015“, the local elections campaign in Ukraine started on the 5th of September. This year elections will be held according to a new procedure. The question arises, will these new regulations impact the electoral process?

The Central Electoral Commission of Ukraine (CEC) announced that the electoral process began in all constituencies but the annexed Crimea and temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk (125 local councils) and Luhansk (146 local councils) regions. Moreover, CEC concluded that local elections cannot be carried out in 91 districts of Donetsk oblast and in 31 districts of Luhansk oblast – the territory controlled by Ukrainian army. The election campaign will not take place in Kyiv either, but in this case it is just because the start of electoral process in Kyiv is scheduled for May 27th, 2016.

In order to ensure the transparency during the elections, the European Parliament is going to send its observers to Ukraine. The EU Ambassador Jan Tombinski said: “It is not common for the European Parliament to send monitors to local elections, but considering the situation in your country, we are ready to take this step”.

On 7th of September Ambassador Tombinski discussed local electoral process with the Head of CEC. Photo credit: espresso.tv
On 7th of September Ambassador Tombinski discussed local electoral process with the Head of CEC. Photo credit: espresso.tv

The election fever has already engulfed Ukrainians, and people’s support in all villages, towns and cities of Ukraine (in a majority of them at least) is being canvassed. These elections will test a new law on local elections, adopted by Verkhovna Rada on July 14, 2015. The expectations are not high: according to the survey, Ukrainian experts do not consider this law to be much better than the previous one, claiming that some provisions are even worse. When asked about strong sides of the new law, Ukrainians singled out two-round election of city mayors (in cities with more than 90,000 voters).

The law also features legal provisions which are obscure and difficult to understand. Coupled with allowing only a limited capacity of candidates to act autonomously resulted in dissatisfaction with the law among Ukrainian experts.  Experts also point out the increase of treshold to 5% as a disadvantage of a new law.

A brief outline of the principles of local election, prescribed by the new law
  • Deputies of village and settlement councils will be elected using first-past-the-post voting in single-member constituencies. Candidates can be appointed by political parties or can run as independents;
  • Elections of Deputies of Verkhovna Rada of Crimea as well as oblast’s, rayon’s, city’s and city districts’ councils are carried out using the proportional representation in multi-member constituencies in accordance with the political parties’ electoral lists. In addition, running as an independent candidate will not be allowed;
  • Elections of city mayors (in cities with more than 90,000 voters) will be conducted using a qualified majority system in single-member districts. The innovation is that if none of the candidates receives the half of the votes the run off round will take place to determine a winner. The electoral process is also limited to political parties only (no independents);
  • Elections of the village, settlement, city mayors (cities with less than 90,000 voters) will be held using the first-past-point voting system in single-member districts;
  • The law prescribes that 30% of the electoral list must be made up of women. 

Following the amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution, President Poroshenko signed another bill into the law with a view to harmonise legislation and avoid legal uncertainty during the local election campaign.

The main feature of this law is greater freedom of communities to define their electoral units. As such, if a village, a settlement or a city council decides to unite in one electoral community and such decision is approved via local referendum, the mayor has to apply to CEC to hold first election in the new territorial unit. CEC can schedule these elections for 25th October, 2015.

The Chairman of Verkhovna Rada Volodymyr Groysman deems that this law “gives freedom to one and a half thousand communities”, “will increase the budget of communities by two and a half times” and added that it is “a genuine decentalisation”. He states: “Let’s give communities a chance to choose their authorities. The law will bring only positive changes”.

However, it is too early to make predictions about whether new regulations will improve transparency and fairness of the upcoming local elections in Ukraine. New law on local elections always raises a lot of questions and face a lot of impediments when it comes to its implementation. However, it seems, the amendments to electoral procedures signed by President Poroshenko have softened the criticism and made experts’ attitudes more or less positive.

Despite the adoption of new electoral laws, the conversation about what local elections should look like should not stop there. It is hoped that the government will take further steps, at both policy and grassroots levels, to ensure that the elections are conducted in enabling environment, as well as in fair, transparent and peaceful manner.